CRM software has many benefits to small businesses. It can save you time on customer communications. It can offer personalized communications to your best customers. And it can help you improve you sales and marketing efforts.
But that’s only if you choose the right CRM software for your particular business. Below are some tips to help you pick the best CRM provider to meet your needs.
When Choosing the Right CRM …
Determine the Problem You’re Trying to Solve
Every business has its own reasons for looking for CRM software. Since there are plenty of different ways to use CRM, you need to determine the exact benefit that you hope it will have for your particular business before you even begin looking at providers.
Brent Leary, co-founder of CRM Essentials  said in phone interview with Small Business Trends, “Every business has its own specific challenges. So the best thing a company can do is have a very detailed understanding of what their main challenge is and what it would take to make sure that they can answer that challenge in a way that allows them to stay true to the way they want to engage with customers.”
Don’t Just Choose the Biggest Name
Leary also cautioned against choosing the first provider that you hear other companies talking about or whoever is offering the best deal at the moment. Since each company’s situation is different, another company’s satisfaction with their own provider doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good fit for you.
Find a Solution that Can Solve Your Problem
When choosing the right CRM, you need to focus on the problem you want your CRM software to solve – and make sure that you keep that in mind during your entire search and evaluation process.
Create a Checklist of Necessary Features
Leary also suggested that businesses make checklist of all the important features that will help you solve your challenge. For example, if your business is focused on improving marketing efforts, you should look for features that can help you improve lead generation and initial contact with potential customers. If you’re looking to improve sales conversion, you could look at features that are more likely to help you with prioritizing customers that are likely to buy.
Choose a Program that Allows You to Customize Communications
Regardless of your main challenge, every business has customers who are at different stages of the buying process. So when choosing the right CRM, you need to find one that will let you customize different communication strategies for different customers, based on your particular methods and needs.
Look for Features that Prioritize Communication
Part of that customization means categorizing customers so that you can send different communications to those who are ready to buy and those who may need some more nurturing. Look into how each provider categorizes leads and make sure it’s a method that works for your customer base.
Find a Program that Will Save You Time
One of the biggest benefits of having a CRM program in the first place is its ability to save you time on customer communication. So make sure that your choice is one that’s going to actually accomplish that goal.
Automate When Necessary
A great timesaving feature of many CRM programs is automation. For example, Infusionsoft offers a CRM service that automates communication with leads who may need more time and nurturing to make a decision, while allowing salespeople to focus more of their actual time on people who are ready to buy or need questions answered.
Tyler Zeman, product marketing manager for Infusionsoft  said in an exclusive interview with Small Business Trends that this is one of the features small businesses don’t often think about when when choosing the right CRM provider. But it’s one that Infusionsoft’s current customers really appreciate once they get the chance to use it.
Always Keep Conversion in Mind
Every business wants to make more sales. So even if your business’s unique challenge is in another area of CRM, you should consider how those improvements might impact your overall sales. And put a higher emphasis on features that are likely to impact sales in a positive way.
Find a Program that Works Quickly
The timing of your communication can make a big difference in your lead nurturing and sales conversions. So you want a software that is able to qualify leads and determine the right communication strategy very quickly.
Look Into Analytical Features
But you also want to find a program that is smart. Some programs can give you insights into your activities, by making sure that you contact leads on a regular basis and finding any irregularities in communications that you may need to be aware of.
Ensure You’re Able to Navigate the Software
You’ll also need to make sure that your choice of software is something you and your team can easily set up and use. If it’s overly complicated or difficult to navigate then some of the time saving benefits will be negated.
Think About Collaboration Features
Many providers also offer features that allow you to easily collaborate and communicate with other team members when it comes to different customer issues. If that’s something that’s important to you, include it on your list of essential features.
Look Into Partners
When choosing the right CRM, you should also look at any partners, apps and other integrations that different CRM providers offer. There may be some useful ways to integrate your CRM with other programs or solutions.
Integrate with the Programs You Already Use
And if there are any programs you already use to store data or manage communications that you absolutely need to be able to integrate with your CRM provider, make those partnerships a top priority.
Think About Your General Business Goals
When choosing the right CRM provider, you also need to think about the goals you have for business growth and where you see your business going over the next several years. Ensure that your CRM will be able to get you there.
Find a Program that Will Grow with You
When evaluating that growth, you also need to ensure that your CRM is something that can scale along with you.
Zeman says, “A lot of very small businesses are drawn very small CRM providers because they’re free or super low cost. But then they quickly outgrow the features and they have to transfer all of their data to a new program and learn the processes all over again.”
Look at Customer Service Models
Another important consideration is each provider’s customer service. As Leary points out, buying CRM software isn’t a one-time purchase, but an ongoing relationship. So you need to make sure that the company is able to offer you quality customer service.
Consider Your Own Customer Service Needs
Part of ensuring that your provider will be able to provide you with great service is to consider how you’d most like to receive that service. If you want representative to be available via email, find a provider that offers that. But if you’d rather have someone available via phone, live chat, or other methods, consider that in your search as well.
Make Sure Someone is Available When You Need Help
You also need to consider when customer service reps are able to assist you. Some companies offer 24/7 service while others may have set hours when reps are available. If you want the ability to reach someone any time you have an issue, you need to prioritize that availability.
Choose a Price Model that Fits Your Needs
Price is an important consideration for any business purchase. But while choosing the lowest cost option may not be your best course of action, you still need to consider the pricing model that would best suit your business. Some providers just have monthly fees while others require more up-front.
Look for Hidden Costs
Some providers may also have pricing models that make it look like you’d be paying less overall, while really charging other fees on the side. Be sure you really understand what all is covered in the price you sign on for.
Consider the Benefits of Community Features
Another potentially beneficial feature that Zeman pointed out is the ability to communicate with other CRM users to share tips and best practices. Since every business uses CRM differently, you could potentially gain some valuable knowledge by having access to others who are finding success with their programs.
CRM  Image via Shutterstock